"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


provincial autonomy

Reuters ran this very interesting tidbit earlier this week:
Miners and authorities in the Congolese province of Katanga have settled a row over support for local farming, leading to the lifting of an export ban for 16 companies, a provincial minister told Reuters on Tuesday.

Mineral-rich Katanga province announced last week it was blocking exports by mining companies which it judged had not supported local agriculture projects as requested.
How often does a province get to declare its own export ban? Well, if you're talking about a failed state, whenever it wants to, especially if that province is the most functional territory within the failed state.

Aid Watch ran a post last month arguing that "'Failed State' is a Failed Concept." While the argument that "there aren't any good economics articles about it" is an incredibly weak reason to dismiss a field of research, I do think Aid Watch makes a good point about the lack of an agreed-upon definition of exactly what a failed state is. The problem isn't so much that scholars haven't tried to specify it (we have and we do), but rather that there is not a universally-agreed upon definition, beyond the idea that a failed state is the weakest kind of state a weak state can be.

Part of the problem in defining "failed states" is that the degree of the state's failure to do the things that states do is rarely uniform throughout a national territory. In the case of Katanga, mining revenues keep the provincial government at least marginally capable of governing, or at least of making life very difficult for mining companies that violate their standards. The mining companies provide and develop infrastructure, mostly out of necessity; they need paved roads and a functioning electrical grid to get their work done. As a result, Lubumbashi, Katanga's provincial capital, is far more functional than the rest of the DRC. There's a measure of public order. They even have working traffic lights.

If Katanga were independent, nobody would call it a failed state. It would likely be weak, but it would not have failed. However, Katanga is a subunit of a state that is clearly and obviously nonfunctional. So what does that tell us about the DRC and about how to specify what constitutes "state failure?"

We don't have a good way of measuring for this variation within failed states, or even of what to call it. Can you scale a semi-autonomous, sub-national unit like Katanga using something akin to a polity score or a measure of state effectiveness? That's a question my co-author and I have been trying to address in our paper on Somali pirates. I'll be presenting the paper at ISA next Saturday at 3:45; we'd love your feedback if you're able to be there.


Blogger dcat said...

It would be nice to have a universally agreed upon definition, to be sure, but descriptively and analytically is it absolutely necessary? There is no universally agreed upon definition of terrorism.Does this mean that there is no such thing as terrorism?


Friday, February 12, 2010 12:49:00 PM

Anonymous Ranil Dissanayake said...

presumably the reasons why a state is failed would be different in different places, and so would the ways in which it is failed. Strikes me that a descriptive definition (' a failed state is one in which...') isn't of much use. Rather we need to define looser terms like influence, no monopoly of legitimate coercion etc. which could indicate a failed state, without necessarily *always* indicating a failed state.

Saturday, February 13, 2010 2:31:00 AM

Blogger dcat said...

Ranil --
I agree. To a certain extent definitions are important. But they are also of limited utility when it comes to enacting policy and what have you. At the end of the day, if there can be a discussion as to whether a state is a failed state, that state has problems.


Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:29:00 AM


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